Do Your Homework: Tips for Working Remotely During the Pandemic

Today, I write to you from my kitchen table, the new normal for me and many others. Like everything else in the world right now, working from home feels strange. So far I have learned (a) what a modem is (yes, I know should have known that already – if they had called it the internet box with the flashing lights, I would have got it right away), (b) that our kitchen chairs are rather uncomfortable, and (c) that you can order defective chocolates (ones that were not pretty enough to make into boxes) by the kilogram.

With businesses closing their doors to the public to help combat the spread of COVID-19, more and more people are commuting to their dens or dining rooms for work instead of to the office. For many of us, working remotely is an entirely new experience, full of challenges, with an oft-frustrating adjustment period.

Here are some tips on how to adapt to working remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Location – finding an appropriate workspace is vital. Choose a space where you can minimize distractions, and make it professional. Maybe you want to hang up your designation certificates or diplomas? At the very least, don’t leave your laundry and dishes on your new desk. If it’s possible, choose an area with natural light, and perhaps move a plant there (both are known to help improve health). And, keep in mind, that whatever is behind you will appear on video calls – so your décor should be appropriate too!
  • Boundaries – while self-isolating or social distancing, creating boundaries with others and with yourself is important. Keep your pets and children and housemates out of your dedicated workspace. Where possible, keep work within your workspace and within your work hours. Balance is as important as ever.
  • Schedule – structure is important when working remotely; set your working hours and find a routine that suits you. Your usual office schedule might not work for you when you are at home, so discuss alternatives with your manager.
  • Plan – decide what you want to accomplish each day and each week, and formulate a strategy to guide you. Make sure your goals are realistic, and will work within your set schedule. There are lots of apps you can download to help you stay organized and track your progress, or you could use a spreadsheet or old-fashioned agenda!
  • Breaks – take them! They are good for your brain, make you more productive and creative, and can help your memory. Find the right time (not while you are on a roll), and the right thing to do (getting fresh air and/or moving your body are good ideas), and take a guilt-free break. (Personally, I have adopted the One Song Dance Party Break every couple of hours.)
  • Nourishment – make sure you hydrate and eat. Keep water at your desk (or “desk,” as it may be), and don’t skip lunch. Sharing meals is a huge part of many people’s social lives, and we can still do that. Video chat your office lunch pal from home and eat lunch together!
  • Outings – leave your house once a day. Of course, options are limited right now, but you can still go for a walk around your neighbourhood, drive somewhere scenic, or read on your balcony.
  • Companionship – find a work-from-home buddy! Checking in regularly with a friend working in similar conditions as you can help you feel less lonely while you are isolated. Those of us who work in offices are used to being surrounded by other people, available to quickly chat between phone calls and emails, providing us with needed emotional connections; we have to get creative and find a way to maintain those connections while apart. (Pen-pal, anyone?)
  • Communicate – no matter how you like to connect with people, the technology is there. Use various tools to keep in touch with colleagues, and mix it up! Instant messaging and texting are good for a quick check-in, but to feel more connected, try phone calls and video chats.
  • Professionalism – the dress code might not be there, but the communication code still is. Maintain your professionalism while corresponding with colleagues and clients (even if you are in your bathrobe!).
  • Wardrobe – wear what you are comfortable in. Changing out of your pajamas may help normalize working from home – you needn’t put on a suit, but wearing something other than what you woke up in is recommended. For video conferences, make your top half look professional, but otherwise, wear what feels right to you. If it helps set the mood, put on your work clothes before sitting down at your home office, but you have the opportunity to be comfortable – take it!
  • Ergonomics – your desk set up has a significant impact on your comfort and your health. When it’s set up right, your monitor should be an arm’s length away, and the top of it should be just below your eyeline. Your knees should be in line with your hips, and your wrists should be straight, when you’re typing and mousing. (For tips on making your desk kinder to your body, click here.)
  • Kindness – go easy to yourself. You don’t just get your computer set up and suddenly know how to work from home. Take the time to find what works for you, and understand that your productivity may not be at its usual levels when you first make the transition to working remotely. And, just as importantly, be kind to your colleagues and your clients in this stressful and scary time – they are adjusting to things too.
  • Emotions – feel your feelings! Everything is uncertain right now – it’s okay to have emotions, to be stressed and worried and sad. Express what you’re feeling, utilize your support network, and seek out new resources if you need them. Working from home is another change during a time of instability, and may overwhelm you. Communicate what you need from your colleagues, managers, family members, and friends.
  • Rewards ­– working from home is hard; treat yourself when you accomplish things. It doesn’t have to be a big achievement like completing a major project or course – small accomplishments are important too! Clearing out your inbox, figuring out how to use a new piece of technology, and helping a coworker solve a problem are all worthy of celebration.

While much of the world transitions to remote work, many essential workers are still serving customers and attending to patients in high-risk environments. Extending the same patience and kindness to them as we do to ourselves while we learn to work-from-home may help make this crisis a little better.

For more tips on working from home, check out Reader’s Digest, Time, and the Star.

For a list of reasons why your brain benefits from breaks, and what kinds of breaks are best, check out this Psychology Today article.

Morgan Thomas, BA (Dtn.)
Project Management & Customer Experience Coordinator